By W. J. Gatens
As many of you are aware, this past Sunday (April 15) marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic after striking an iceberg in the north Atlantic on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Of the more than 2,200 passengers and crew members aboard, only 705 survived the disaster. In some ways this story of shipwreck and rescue seems almost a parable for our present situation in the Newman Fellowship.
On several occasions, I have said that it is as if we are in a lifeboat. We have left the sinking ship of the Episcopal Church and hope to be taken aboard the greater ship of the Catholic Church. (Here, of course, the analogy breaks down. In 1912 the Titanic was the largest ship afloat, and her survivors were rescued by the far more modest Carpathia.) For the time being, the lifeboat is keeping us safe, but it is not a place where we can remain for the indefinite future. Just a few months ago, it appeared that there would be no obstructions to reaching our destination. It seemed to be plain sailing. Today things are far less straightforward than we had hoped they would be. Like it or not, we are constrained to remain on the lifeboat until the way is cleared for our further progress.
In June of 1833, Blessed John Henry Newman was on a ship becalmed for a week in the Straits of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia. He was returning to England after an extended tour of the Mediterranean. While in Sicily he became seriously ill and nearly died. He was not fully recovered as he sat on the unmoving ship. “The night is dark, and I am far from home” he wrote as he longed to be back in England, obedient to what he perceived as a divine call, though he could not then have known the shape it would take. “I do not ask to see the distant scene”, but in a series of single steps he did return to England, became a leader of the Oxford Movement, and following the inexorable course of his convictions as they unfolded in his brilliant mind, he became a member of the Catholic Church. That was in 1845. He had to endure the opposition and mistrust of many Catholics as well as Anglicans, but he remained steadfast in his calling.
We who name our fellowship after Blessed John Henry Newman should recognize from his life that God often asks us to be patient and wait, even if the reasons elude our understanding. As a congregation of the faithful, we know where we are bound, yet we have a work to do and a witness to bear, even from the lifeboat. We will not always be in the lifeboat. The next step has already been determined by God. Our job is to trust in Him and to return to Him in our own imperfect way the love He has so perfectly shown to us.
“O God, who hast prepared for them that love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
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